My apologies for posting a response so late to your curated piece.
The raised fist is a great example of visual activism. I agree with your assessment that it is recognizable and clear, yet also malleable enough to be applied in many contexts. I had an interesting experience a few years ago in Nicaragua that I think speaks to this. I brought several students down there for a month long class connected to social justice. At one point, we had a great talk from Dora María Téllez, the first female comandante in the Sandanista’s revolution to overthrown the Somoza regime. She led the liberation of León, one of the major cities in Nicaragua and was later a member of the cabinet in the first Sandanista government. Anyway, at this point in time, she’s a primary opposition figure in the Nicaraguan government and clearly on the left. After her talk, we were taking photos with her. She posed with a student of mine and I, and my student raised his first so Sra. Téllez does too, and so do I. Perhaps it was because my student is African-American, but Sra. Téllez responded by saying “black power” (the only English she spoke the whole time). To me this speaks to that malleability and clarity. In the one hand, the sign was clearly recognizable to her despite the cross-cultural divide of Nicaragua and the US. On the other hand, it also clearly signified for her as a statement of the radicalism of the black power movement (via the Panthers I imagine). It makes me wonder if the potency of this sign has become more tied up with some usages of it than others? Does it always reference black power? In what situations does it shrug off that reference?
I think you’re on the right track here when you note the raised first is an invitational sign. It states, and asks those witnessing that statement for a response, inviting them to join in by raising their fist as well. There is something powerful about a visual that evokes a kinetic, embodied, performative response like that. It is also worthy of questioning the effect and effectiveness of the raised fist once it has morphed into a (socially) mediated sign, but it seems to me that the answer to some of your questions lies in the loss of the performative and invitational quality of the fist. We definitely seem less drawn to action, even if that action is simply the raising of the first in solidarity, when that sign comes in a mediated form.
I wonder too if we might not productively read this shift through Benjamin’s oft quoted “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Though not a work of art per se, does the raised fist have an aura that is lost in the process of mechanical and digital reproduction? As I understand Benjamin, he is celebrating this loss as a form of radical populist (or more accurately perhaps, socialist) distribution of the value of a work of art in contrast to the more Fascist and elitist concentration and control of that value. In this sense, the ubiquity and distribution of the raised fist might be its very strength as a sign—the more people can pick it up and add it as a symbol to their struggle, the more it will accrue value as a symbol of protest.
Good topic for discussion, Jackie, thank you.
Great question! From just thinking about the observation off the top of my head I don;t think intellect is a major focus amongst the representation of the queer male geek body. Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds and Michael from Queer as Folk are not focused on for their intellect. Lamar is more of a geek because of his flamboyance and Michael is seen more as a geek through his interactions with superheroes and comics. The queer geek I find the most intriguing in regards to your observation is Sheldon. Although he is depicted as possibly falling on the asexual spectrum in The Big Bang, he embodies intellect that transcends many of his queer geek counterparts in other media. But I feel like in The Big Bang, his intellect is depicted in a way that makes him pretentious. This frames his intelligence as negative and not positive, where as it is my feeling that the heterosexual geek’s intellect is seen more as a commodity amongst the general public (i.e. he helps you with homework).
Great insight! I too struggle with my fandom and the representations we are given on the screen. As I watched your clip I found myself wondering how perhaps using females as a sexual object the geek is able to rid himself of the effeminate and sexually inept stereotypes. Although many of the male characters in The Big Bang still embody these stereotypes, the females could be seen as a visual stand in for “Yes, I might be a geek. But look I have a female as an object and hold more power”.
Great post and visual essay — very interesting and illustrative to watch alongside your essay. Reading your post, I was wondering how the sexualization of the queer geeky male body might relate to class tensions imbuing hegemonic masculinity (that is, media representations often show the straight male geek as a feminized figure in regards to the physical strength and sexuality, though masculine in relation to mental ability). Do you see this tension playing out in regards to the queer geek body?
Fascinating post, especially for someone who reads the occasional forwarded Oatmeal comic but isn’t a regular reader. I like the connections you draw between Tesla’s image and the expectations Imman has to navigate, particularly in regards to how even as Imman trades on Tesla’s cultural cachet, Tesma’s image (via geek ethics) functions to discipline Imman’s career - or indeed anyone attempting to make a living out of the content production we’re supposed to do out of passion and enjoyment. Interesting, too, how enthusiastically Oatmeal readers defended Imman in the comments of the buzzfeed article - again, engaging in free labor that produces value for others.
Thanks for the comments!
I agree that entrepreneurship is crucial part of the picture. Even at big companies, workers are encouraged to approach their work with an entrepreneurial attitude. And of course workers can find themselves traveling frequently between mainstream game production and indie production, due to the high rate of bigger companies buying out or squeezing out smaller ones. Another part of the picture is the the power game publishers to set production deadlines; payments are triggered upon reaching these milestones. This impacts not only mainstream game work, but also indie game companies, who have to struggle to compete with the rate at which larger studios can push out titles and new content. And game publishers sometimes outsource the production of various aspects of games to indie studios, another factor that puts indies under similar pressure.
I haven’t seen Grandma’s Boy, I’ll have to check it out! I do agree that media representations of creative & new media work in particular contribute to the cool factor, as well as how companies represent themselves as cool workplaces and even construct physical environments to support that image (facilities with a lot of amenities, cool interior decorating, etc.).
I really enjoy your perspective on geek culture within the industry of game work. I have a few thoughts on the overall culture. First, I wonder how much influence media representation has had on the cool factor for such work? I think of Grandma’s Boy (2000) specifically. But more than just re-framing game work I think many of the white collar tech jobs of today are framed around this idea of being an innovator like the late Steve Jobs. Thus, those who work in these industries should put in the hours because it is more play/being cool than work.
I like the way you pointed to the theme of autonomy. I suspect working conditions can be equally restrictive on the level of indie games. Geek values seem to push people towards entrepreneurship, but this exposes workers to additional risk and can make it more difficult to access to things like insurance and benefits.
Thank you for your comments Erin. I definitely agree with you about extending the critique to the network and the creator, and this was one of the may things I would have liked to have been able to discuss at length here, were it not for the space constraints! I think that Chuck Lorre presents an interesting dynamic in this case, because while he has been associated with “Two and a Half Men,” a show that I find to be incredibly sexist and highly reliant on one-dimensional portrayals of women, he was also a writer and co-executive producer/supervising producer for “Roseanne,” a show that had quite complex female characters and often championed various feminist causes.
As for the network, I think that CBS is often seen as catering to a relatively older crowd, and so the success of a show like “The Big Bang Theory” in this context is particularly interesting. Based on data from sites like “TV By The Numbers,” this show may be luring younger viewers to the network, an occurrence which has been aided by the show’s success with the younger demographic in syndication on TBS as well.
Furthermore, I would be very interested in conducting a reception study of the show in order to discern whether or not viewers of TBBT actually identify with geek culture or not; there are many critiques of the show from self-identified “geeks” or “nerds” currently circulating in the blogosphere that claim that the show stereotypes geeks and/or that it is simply uninteresting. Obviously these pieces cannot be taken as representative of the whole audience, but they are interesting to consider nonetheless.
Really interesting observations! Two things jump out at me here. First, I wonder if you think your critique of the show’s production team could be extended to the network on which it airs (CBS) and the broad comedy approach associated with that network and the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre? Are problematic representations of gender part and parcel of this broad approach? And what makes geeky subject matter a good fit with that approach to comedy?
Second, while it certainly makes perfect sense to attribute some of this CBS and/or the male dominated production team, I wonder if there is another aspect to the show’s gender problem. Are the one-dimensional and stereotypical representations of women also a symptom of the problematic attitudes that still exist within geek culture? And does the show’s popularity among self-proclaimed geeks, who identify with the show and its characters, demonstrate a reticence to really interrogate or change these attitudes?
Would love to hear your thoughts!